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Drakeford rebukes Cabinet Secretary on school holiday reform u-turn

04 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Photo: Dominic Lipinski / PA Media

Emily Price

Former First Minister Mark Drakeford has launched a stinging rebuke of the Welsh Government’s latest u-turn on school holiday reforms.

On Tuesday morning (June 4) Education Secretary Lynne Neagle announced the planned overhaul of the year would be shelved.

The proposals would have seen a week taken from the summer holidays and added to the one-week break in October.

The changes were expected to come in next year, but will now not be implemented until the next Senedd term.

Ms Neagle said the delay is to allow teachers and staff space and time to deliver other reforms such as a new Welsh curriculum and an overhaul of additional learning needs.

Initial plans for the policy were first announced under Mark Drakeford’s government with Eduction Minister Jeremy Miles tasked with putting them in place.

Manifesto

Following a statement from the Education Secretary in the Chamber this afternoon, Mr Drakeford said the announcement amounted to the “abandonment of a manifesto commitment” made by the Labour Party at the last election.

The former First Minister announced his resignation at the end of 2023 after five years in the job.

He was replaced by Vaughan Gething who has so far shelved several planned overhauls including the Sustainable Farming Scheme and Council tax reform as well as performing a partial u-turn on 20mph guidance.

Mr Drakeford said that in pausing school year reforms it would cause “political” and “reputational” damage to Wales just as other parts of the UK were looking at an example of what “progressive governments” can do.

Predecessor

He said: “The Minister shouldn’t seek to shelter behind semantics in saying to me that this was a commitment to explore reform of the school day, because she knows perfectly well that her predecessors published a plan—not an exploration, but a plan—to implement that commitment, and that will now not be happening in this Senedd term.

“It would have moved one week in five years from the school holidays in the summer to the autumn half term. Nobody I think could claim that the Government was rushing headlong down some radical path, but it was a start. It was a start on a journey that would have improved the outcomes for children in Wales.

“I regret the political damage. I regret the reputational damage that will be done to Wales, just as other parts of the United Kingdom were looking at Wales and pointing to us as an example of what a progressive Government could do. What I really regret is the damage that will be done to the life chances of the children who are at the heart of this policy.”

The Llywydd was forced to intervene during the former First Minister’s time on the floor due to heckling from Labour MS Hefin David.

Mr David branded the the Presiding Officer Elin Jones “ridiculous” for allowing Mark Drakeford to continue.

She said: “Excuse me, don’t question my decision to allow Mark Drakeford to – You said, ‘This is ridiculous’, me allowing Mark Drakeford to continue. It’s not. I’ve allowed you discretion time after time to continue on important issues for yourself, so remember that, Hefin David. I’m allowing Mark Drakeford to continue.”

Children

The Cardiff West MS continued saying deprived families approach the summer holiday with “anxiety sometimes amounting to fear”.

He said: “The life chances of those children rely absolutely on what the school can do for them, and the fantastic schools that there are on the estate who do so much to invest in those children who have no chances otherwise, and who work them all, from September to July.

“When those children go away in July, in those six weeks, they will not see a book, they will have no opportunity to play in a way that allows them to appreciate what maths can do for them in their lives, and when they come back in September, the school starts all over again. The idea that there is no learning loss in the lives of those children is absolutely absurd.

“What this policy would have done is it would have begun to close the gap in the lives of those children. Here is a Government that could have done something to help them, but it has decided not to.”

The Cabinet Secretary for Education responded saying she regretted the tone of the former First Minister which she felt called into question her commitment to young people.

She said: “This is not about reactionary forces. This is about me making a decision based on a 16,000-plus consultation and what I am hearing on the ground about a school system that is struggling and overwhelmed with reform, that is finding it challenging to raise attainment, and which is also struggling for funding. So that is what I am prioritising, and I make no apologies for that decision.”

The exchange comes as First Minister Vaughan Gething awaits a vote of no confidence in the Senedd tomorrow evening (June 5) following weeks of rows over political donations and the sacking of a junior minister.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “The Labour First Minister is in crisis, the Labour government is imploding and the Labour party in Wales is in disarray”

Responding to the fiery exchange Tom Giffard Shadow Education Minister, said: “It appears that under the strain of the upcoming vote of no confidence in the First Minister, Labour are struggling to keep it together.

“For Mark Drakeford to angrily challenge the Labour Government on a policy within his own legacy is unheard of.

“Although it is the right decision to pause the plans, Labour must go further and scrap the school holiday reform altogether.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
12 days ago

The thing is civil servants waste their expensive time on these, what amount to be, whims…

Adrian
Adrian
12 days ago

Look – it’s not like him retiring was going to make anything better, but it’s enough to suffer the current Labour muppets without having to be troubled by the previous ones.

Annibendod
Annibendod
12 days ago

It’s been pushed back because it’s a deeply unpopular idea. No good trying to put your progressive credentials on display if you proposal does no good whatsoever. The progressive thing to do is always 1. What’s fair, and 2. What works. This isn’t fair on GCSE and A-Level kids, takes teaching time out of their calendar and so doesn’t work. So the progressive thing to do here IS LISTEN TO THE TEACHING UNIONS AND DROP THE WHOLE THING rather than push it on to 2028 and go through all this nonsense again. You’ve done the consultation and you learned it… Read more »

Jon_S
Jon_S
12 days ago

Following the 20mph debacle, another issue Drakeford is unwilling to listen to public opinion on? The consultation found little consensus on the matter, the tourist industry quite rightly pointed out what a hammer blow it would be to them (who visits outdoor tourist attractions at the end of October, for heaven’s sake – moving the week to June would have been a better option), The Royal Welsh and others pointed out the impact to them. But Drakeford sees himself as being right because, let’s face it, 15% of the Welsh electorate voted for his party. Arrogant beyond belief.

Why vote
Why vote
12 days ago

Regret the political and reputational damage caused to wales? Labour should have thaught of that before now it has had 25 years in a position of power and seems to have abused a lot of it.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
12 days ago

School holiday reform was a manifesto commitment.

Labour won the last Senedd election with that manifesto commitment.

Annibendod
Annibendod
12 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Yes and they’ve done their consultation and the results are in. Committment fulfilled. Now listen to the results – deeply unpopular proposal. Perfectly reasonable to say, we’ve listened to you and we respect your views so we’ll keep things as they are.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
12 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Please find one voter or labour candidate who actually reads it!
For that matter, find a labour MS who actually believes not just in the manifesto but actually intends to implement it.

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